Aug 31, 2009

Burgerville even does health care right

My brother sends along a link: the Wall Street Journal explaining how Burgerville's health care coverage has improved employee retention--and the bottom line.
In absorbing more of the costs, Burgerville's annual health-care bill nearly doubled, to $4.1 million from $2.1 million. But company leaders figured the move would boost recruiting and retention.

Under Burgerville's plan, individual hourly workers can enroll in a health-maintenance organization for $15 a month, with no deductible. A worker and spouse pay $30 monthly; family plans cost $90. Salaried employees, whose plans didn't change significantly, pay $84 a month for individual and $240 monthly for family coverage, and have an annual deductible of $500.

Executives say the plan paid for itself, and more. Turnover in 2006 plunged to 54%, from 128% in 2005. That's a big deal when it costs an average of $1,700 to replace and train a restaurant worker, according to People Report.
No word on whether the HMO actively encourages its members to abstain from their own products.

Burgerville's overall approach shows how corporate social responsibility doesn't have to hurt profits. Once they enter the South Sound (or at very least send a Nomad our way), they'll be the perfect fast food company.

Aug 30, 2009

strikes and lawsuits and swine flu...

...add your own "Oh my."

The school year commences in Washington state with a strike in the Kent district...
More than 1,000 striking teachers packed the picket line outside Kent School District headquarters Friday to let everyone know about their unhappiness with contract talks.

With only two days left to work out an agreement before school is supposed to start, striking teachers from every school in the Kent district showed up for the rally.

"We feel very put against the wall, painted into a corner - very disrespected that the district wasn't willing to bargain," says teacher Pat Deming.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters did a drive-by of support for the teachers' demands from the district as some teachers shouted, "Class size! Class size! Class size!"
(And read Ryan's take for some criticism of a critic; Lake Stevens is striking, too; at least Shoreline seems to have avoided the worst.)

...and a court date for the NEWS lawsuit...
Right in the middle of a recession that has created the worst atmosphere for school budgeting in decades, a coalition of Washington school districts, parents, teachers and community groups is going to court Monday to demand that the state start paying the full cost of education.

Attorneys for both sides say the economy will have little or no influence on the outcome of the non-jury trail, scheduled to begin on the first day of the school year for many district and to continue for six weeks of testimony in King County Superior Court before Judge John Erlick.

School districts have been struggling economically for decades, so while the recession makes things worse it doesn't make them different, said Mike Blair, chair of the group calling itself Network for Excellence in Washington Schools.
...and, of course, a potentially deadly flu strain.


keep it fresh

For the first time in eight years of teaching, I will have the same schedule for the second year running. In the seven years prior, not only were my classes mixed up every year, but I had at least one class that I'd never taught before.

So, how am I handling the opportunity to, for once, enjoy the comfort of a cadence?

By taking on more responsibility, of course. Last spring I was elected Department Coordinator, which promises to be both mundane and exciting in equal doses. (I hear that a blog-neighbor who will not be named has also answered the call.)

But that's not enough. Let's see... how about... a student teacher?

Done and done. We've already met and started planning for the first few weeks, when we'll teach in tandem, until he's comfortable enough to steer the ship on his own.

Aug 28, 2009

bear fail

From Newcastle Trip '09

Even though we knew what the sign was trying to accomplish, every time we drove past it, we cracked up.

Aug 27, 2009

the modest films of a modest woman

Maybe Meryl Streep's too modest.
Now, I know I'm a good actress. I'm Meryl Streep. I've won two Academy Awards, and I have been nominated for 15. That's a record. But what my friends and I figured out is that the name Meryl Streep isn't really synonymous with one truly unforgettable film. It's weird to think about, but it's undeniably true.

Go ahead, try and name a classic movie I've starred in. Not a classic character I've portrayed, mind you, but an overall amazing piece of cinema. You can't. You just can't.
A little help, Lena?

Update: Lena answers the call--and explains why Streep's Casablanca is not The Hours.

Aug 26, 2009

Lacey TRL brings back the new nonfiction

Two months ago, I lovingly griped about the loss of the New Nonfiction section at the Lacey Timberland Library. Today, I'm happy to report that the shelf of shelves is coming back. Word comes from employee and blogger Kelsie Raddas:
Happy days are here again! There is once again a New Non-Fiction section in the Lacey Library! It is just about done and it will also feature new biographies.
It is also in a new location, aisle 5, just after the adult reference desk.

A lot of folks did a lot of work to get it to where it is. It looks really great!

Come on in and check it out!
Believe me, I will: the news is worth every exclamation point.

at the Museum of the Rockies

Earlier this summer, a group of unrowdy atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and otherwise scientifically inclined skeptics descended upon Ken Ham's infamous Creation "Museum" in Petersburg, Kentucky. Pseudoscience-bashing fun was had by all.

As an intellectual palate-cleanser, I'd recommend that they make tracks to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, which I visited for the first time a few days ago.

The Museum--which covers many other aspects of Montana's fascinating history--seems to have little patience for pseudoscience. Which is good. Though it lacks the size and grandeur of the Royal Tyrell Museum, its neighbor to the north, it's also a lot cheaper ($10 for adults) and a lot cleverer. Consider it the anti-Creation-"Museum."

Here are a few of the photos I took.

Aug 25, 2009


Last weekend, Melissa and I helped Mom and Dad move to Newcastle, Wyoming. On a Saturday evening, after we tired of unpacking, the folks suggested that we take a drive through the area. (We brought our cameras along.) Mom says that when she was a teenager, she and her friends would similarly roam about the countryside, a practice she calls "hooperhacking."

At this point on the World Wide Web, this very blog is the only reference to such a cultural phenomenon, so I cannot say with any authority that the term "hooperhacking" belongs anywhere but in her crazy imagination.

swine flu predictions worsen; is your school ready?

Word from a White House report says that 50% of Americans could contract H1N1 this coming autumn.
The virus, clinically called H1N1, could cause symptoms in 60 million to 120 million people, more than half of whom might seek medical attention, and could peak before a vaccine is widely available, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimated in an 86-page report assessing the government's response to the first influenza pandemic in 41 years.

Although most cases probably would be mild, up to 300,000 people could require intensive care, which could tie up all those beds in some parts of the country at the peak of the outbreak, the council said.
If it gets that bad, you know that schools will be hit hard. Education Secretary Arne Duncan offers recommendations:
Duncan said schools should evaluate what materials they have available for at-home learning. The latest guidance provides more details on methods schools could use, such as distributing recorded classes on podcasts and DVDs; creating take-home packets with up to 12 weeks of printed class material; or holding live classes via conference calls or "webinars."

Federal officials said earlier this month schools should close only as a last resort. They also advised that students and teachers can return to school or work 24 hours after their fever is gone; the old advice was to stay home for a week. The virus prompted more than 700 schools to temporarily close last spring.
Online school: a solution that was evident back in April--or sooner, for some.

Upodate 8/29: Some 200 students at Washington State University have reported sick, many potentially with swine flu. In a pattern we're seeing across the country, the flu seems to strike within a week or two of the start of classes.

Aug 24, 2009

a most amazing minivan

A Dodge Caravan limousine, seen outside a Wyoming grocery store. More for your dollar, indeed.

the history of South Dakota tourism

To understand the profusion of roadside attractions along Highway 16 from the Wyoming border to Rapid City, you have to know your history.

In 1934, the United States suffered through a crippling Depression. As a way to spur economic development, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Tourism Restoration and Protection Act* into law, designating the southwestern corner of South Dakota as a National Cash Extraction Zone. The Act provided for the construction of a gigantic statue carved into the Black Hills, to be called the Mount of the Three Presidents, honoring Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson.**

The TRPA enjoyed limited immediate success, bearing most of its fruit after the end of the Second World War, as hundreds of thousands of Americans, hungry for a sense of normalcy, descended upon South Dakota like gnats on a banana.

In 1964, the United Nations proclaimed the region a World Old-Timey Heritage Area,*** ensuring the maintenance of Reptile Gardens, Cartoon-Based Theme Parks, Chuck Wagon Dinners, Mystery Areas, and Ridiculous Tram Rides for generations to come.

*Or, as it was affectionately known, the Tourist Trap Act.
**Teddy Roosevelt's bespectacled face was added to the plan upon the insistence of nephew Franklin Delano, who refused to sign the TRPA without it.
***Only one other site in the United States has merited such a designation: the Drug Store That Shall Not Be Named.

Aug 21, 2009

negating the exit exam resolution

Regarding the September / October LD resolution, one of my readers asks,
Ok so aff seems pretty easy. it seems like the only neg argument is that we need one test that holds all students to the same level. Are there any other, better neg arguments we can think of?
That claim shows the basic instrumentality of standardized tests: they're not intrinsically good, but are only worth the goods they bring to those who take them, or those who administer them, or the society that requires them.

What are those goods?

A standardized test, when properly designed to eliminate subtle biases, levels the playing field in several ways. It exposes deficiencies in particular classes, schools, districts, or states, which allows educators or policymakers to allocate resources, change teaching strategies, etc. It can also expose inequalities across relevant demographic factors--race, gender, socioeconomic status, and the like. (The last, in educational research, is usually the most powerful determiner of one's educational fate.) Standardized tests have sparked real educational reforms, and an overall interest in overcoming the "soft bigotry of low expectations," in George W. Bush's memorable phrase.

A standardized test is more objective than a teacher's gut feeling or a parent's pride. Administered in a tightly controlled environment, it's arguably less amenable to cheating or other kinds of corruption.

A healthy democracy depends on an informed citizenry; the foundation is public education. Standardized tests in subjects that society, through democratic processes, has deemed educationally essential--math, science, history, letters--ensure a "floor" of democratic competence.

National Security / Economic Stability
Educationally, the U.S. lags behind other nations. The Neg can argue that this is because of the U.S.'s disparate, hodgepodge system of "local control," and that the use of standardized tests is a remedy.

That's great, I can hear you saying. So taking a test is important. Let's require everyone to take the test, then, but not require it be passed for graduation.

Two responses.

First, passing the test helps guarantee the worth of the diploma to cautious or skeptical observers, including employers and college admissions officers.

Second, and perhaps more important, it ensures the test is taken seriously. Consider Washington state. The WASL has four components: reading, writing, math, and science. Reading and writing are required for passing since 2006; as this handy chart shows (comparing my school's results to the state average), scores improved significantly after that year. (Yes, there are several counterarguments, and I'm glad you're already thinking about them.) In contrast, the math test has been an on-again, off-again requirement over its history, and scores have reflected that, including a significant dip this past year when students were able to graduate after failing, provided they continued taking math courses. Science has never been required, and our scores are abysmal.

Not only is the passage requirement essential for students to take it seriously, but it adds an extra layer of accountability for teachers. (The Aff might say, "merit pay would work better," but the Neg could respond that merit pay without an objective measure, like test scores, is susceptible to cronyism.)

For all the arguments listed above, accountability is the linchpin to the entire Negative case.

Last, a word about strategy. DO NOT let the affirmative pin you into defending the status quo, or tests in their present incarnation. Tests vary from state to state, in quantity, breadth, and quality. If needed, create a resolutional analysis or overview that makes this as distinct from a policy debate as possible. It's likely that the affirmative will try to present evidence that testing has failed; you can argue that those failures aren't inherent to tests, but to the lack of political will to implement them. Or you can try to sidestep the empirical debate altogether, arguing the proposal on an entirely moral plane. (This is LD, lest this resolution make you think otherwise.)

Some responses to Aff arguments

1. This will make teachers "teach to the test."
"Teach to the test" is only as bad as the test. Make the test an accurate reflection of what students have learned, measuring it against what they should have learned, and teaching to the test can be a positive thing.

2. What about students with test anxiety, or who through no fault of their own fare poorly on tests? And is it fair to have such a limited slice of time represent a student's work and worth?
Think of an analogous situation: written (or, these days, computer-based) tests for driver's licenses. Nobody complains that they're somehow unjust, even though they cause much anxiety and are not always a fair representation of a person's true ability. The key is to allow retakes, and to remediate--to help students who struggle to succeed. Failure is just a speed bump on the road to success.

3. Tests are biased.
Not well-designed tests. And even a slightly biased test that helps "raise the bar" and improve education is better than a system free of individual accountability that leaves children behind. (See what I did there?)

This post in no way exhausts the options for the Negative. If you have other brilliant ideas for negating the resolution, or questions about my initial efforts, share them in the comments.

Aug 18, 2009

in the stardust of a comet

Boosting theories that life on Earth was seeded from interstellar bodies, the amino acid glycine has been isolated in comet leavings.
Previously, researchers have found amino acids in space rocks that fell to Earth as meteorites, and tentative evidence for the compounds has been detected in interstellar space. Now, an amino acid called glycine has been definitively traced to an icy comet for the first time.

"It's not necessarily surprising, but it's very satisfying to find it there because it hasn't been observed before," says Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author of the new study. "It's been looked for [on comets] spectroscopically with telescopes but the content seems so low you can't see it that way."
It's fantastic to finally see the results of research that began in 1998 with the launching of NASA's Stardust mission. Read more about NASA's astrobiology efforts here. Read more about Elsila here.

Aug 17, 2009

origin of the Usain Bolt pose

I kept thinking, I know I've seen that Usain Bolt pose before.

Because I had. Milk River, Alberta, 2006.

As you can see, Bolt's pose is the universal symbol for "Shower Me With Endorsement Contracts."

waiting for the Big One

Northwesterners have heard for years that a massive earthquake is bound to crash Washington state sometime, maybe soon, and it'll make the Nisqually Quake of '01 feel like a rumble of indigestion in comparison. And now, it might hit closer to home than we think.
Whereas scientists once predicted that a mega-earthquake would be centered just off the Northwest coast, now – using data from the tremors research – they say that it could be 30 miles or more inland, under the Olympic Peninsula, which lies to the west of Seattle and Tacoma across Puget Sound.

“The closer you are to the source, the stronger the shaking,” said Steve Malone, a research professor emeritus at the University of Washington.

Exactly how much stronger, and how much more damage such a quake would cause in the Puget Sound area, hasn’t been calculated, Malone said.
Read the whole thing to find out what researchers did to come to a new, controversial conclusion, and why not all geologists are convinced.

Also, if you own a home anywhere within commuting distance of Seattle, you might want to think about buying earthquake insurance.

high stakes exit exams: empirical evidence

The '09 Sept/Oct LD resolution requires the Negative to defend the use of mandatory high school exit exams. There are many ways to make the argument, most of which involve claims about academic rigor (exit exams hold students accountable) or equality (exit exams ensure all students everywhere are meeting standard.) It's therefore highly likely that both sides will look at empirical evidence to make their case.

Unfortunately, we have a dearth of quality evidence of the overall effects of high stakes exit exams in the United States. In an article titled "Exit Exams Harm Students Who Fail Them - and Don't Benefit Students Who Pass Them," published in Phi Delta Kappan in May of '09, John Robert Warren and Eric Grodsky look at all the states that have exit exams, a data set covering 33 years, and compare their students' outcomes to those of students in states with no exit exams.

The overall conclusions--based on data published here--are mixed. Here are a few of the findings.

Academic Achievement
We found no evidence for any effect of exit exams (minimum competency or higher competency) on reading or math achievement at the mean or at any of several cut-points of the achievement distribution. These results hold for 13-year-olds and for 17-year-olds and don't vary across racial/ethnic or social class backgrounds, undermining claims of disparate impact.
So, on the one hand, exit exams don't seem to disproportionately affect minorities (at least in this one respect), a point for the Neg against any Aff arguing that standardized tests are unfair. On the other hand, they're not making any difference in academic achievement, potentially a point for the Aff, at least on defense.

Job Preparation
We use data from the 1980 through 2000 U.S. Censuses and from the 1984 through 2002 Current Population Surveys to evaluate the labor market returns to exit exams (Warren, Grodsky, and Lee 2008). Both data sources include large, nationally representative samples of American young people. We limited our focus to 20- to 23-year-olds with no college education (and along the way we found that exit exams have no bearing on 20- to 23-year-olds' chances of having attended college). Young high school graduates who obtained their diplomas in exit exam states fared no better in the labor market than their peers who obtained their diplomas in other states. These findings held in states with minimum competency exit exams and in states with higher competency exit exams. They also held for students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds.
This is potentially a critical point for the Affirmative. If students who have taken an exit exam are statistically no better prepared for the world of work, perhaps the process is a waste of time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

Dropout Rates
Our analyses indicate that state exit exams reduce high school graduation rates (Warren, Jenkins and Kulick 2006). In states with "minimum competency" exit exams (assessing mastery of material that students should learn before 9th grade), graduation rates decline by about one percentage point. In states with "higher competency" exit exams, graduation rates decline by about two percentage points. Nationally, each percentage point reduction in the graduation rate means about 35,000 fewer young people leave high school with a diploma each year.
The social and economic impacts of dropping out are well documented; one merely has to make the extrapolation to a bleaker economic and social future for those who fail.

It would be unfair to argue that the authors would fall squarely on the Affirmative side of the resolution. As they write,
Exit exam policies are broken, and states should either fix them or get rid of them, but either option requires a political will that is in scarce supply among policy makers and politicians.
Absent junking exit exams, the other option would be to make them more rigorous--in the short term, denying significantly more students their diploma, which, as the authors note, is "now a prerequisite for social and economic success in American society."

Unless they can find an exemplary state that bucks the trend, and use it as a model for the nation, Negatives would be wise to resist any Affirmative attempts to wrestle them into defending the status quo. If Warren and Grodsky are right, there isn't much in the status quo worth defending.

Aug 15, 2009

the long arm of the law

Back in February of 2008, Capital High School went on lockdown because of a nearby bank robbery. At the time, I wrote,
For about 45 minutes, my advisory class sat in darkness near the inside wall, taking naps and chatting quietly about There Will Be Blood and the magic that is Daniel Day-Lewis. I totally called the bank robbery angle.

When they announced the lockdown's conclusion, saying that the search had been called off, I told students it was because the cops had probably caught the bad guy.

Roughly a year and six months later, they finally have.
An anonymous letter to the Olympia Police Department in January helped detectives make an arrest Wednesday in a year-and-a-half old armed bank robbery on the west side, court papers state.

Abraham Sebastian Anthony, 22, turned himself in at a local state Department of Corrections office after he was identified as a suspect and located in Lansing, Mich., as part of Olympia Police Det. Jeff Herbig’s investigation, court papers state.

Olympia Police Det. Dan Smith said Anthony admitted to committing the robbery after his arrest and said he did it to get money to feed his OxyContin habit.

The investigation of the Feb. 12, 2008 armed robbery of the Columbia Bank on Harrison Avenue had stalled until an anonymous letter sent to OPD in January said that Anthony was responsible.
There's one tiny transposition error in the article: the robbery occurred on February 21st, not the 12th.

Resolved: Public high school students in the United States ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams to graduate.

The September/October NFL Lincoln-Douglas debate resolution has been released:
Resolved: Public high school students in the United States ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams to graduate.
Some questions to get you started in your casewriting:
  • What are the core values, tenets, or missions of public education? (Some potential answers, while I'm thinking about it: civic preparation / democratic principles, academic rigor, social equality, socialization, fairness, social justice, diversity, economic strength / job preparation, industry, truth, social sorting, preparation for the "real world")
  • Is it fair to judge one's entire academic career on a single slice in time?
  • Is it fair to have different standardized exit exams across different states?
  • What uniquely American educational features (i.e., local control) come into play?
  • Do standardized exit exams have to be tied to graduation to be meaningful?
  • Does it matter what kind of "standardized exit exams" we're talking about? In other words, what does "standardized" mean? Norm-referenced? Criterion-referenced? Either? Both? Neither?
  • When it comes to this issue, which figures have the most authority? Politicians? Teachers? Parents? Students? Educational experts? Think tanks?
  • Do "multiple intelligences" play a role?
I'll add links and analysis to this post throughout the rest of summer. Feel free to ask questions or promote arguments in the comments.

1. FairTest doesn't like standardized tests. Not at all. (And here's a good research starting point.)

2. Some of the best available empirical research, and its implications for the debate.

3. Joe Nusz goes looking for values in the resolution, by examining a typical school vision statement. A good way to approach the subject.

4. I offer some ideas for negating the resolution.

5. By request: Albert Einstein on the relative value of knowledge and imagination.

6. Back by popular demand: Value / criterion pairs for the resolution--a work in progress.

Aug 14, 2009

are you a true believer?

Eugene Volokh, earlier this week, passed along some thoughts from an anonymous writer familiar with American immigration law. The subject: how some immigration officials determine whether folks who seek asylum religious persecution are, in fact, sincere in their faith.
Some standard questions asked by TAs to establish Christian bonafides:

Who is Jesus Christ?

What is your favorite story from the Bible?

What is your favorite prayer? Can you recite that prayer or a part of that prayer?

These seem like rather basic questions, but it is astounding how often Christian claimants cannot answer them. It is also fairly easy to spot the respondents who have been coached since they know one and only one story from the Bible, which is inevitably short-handed as: "water to wine." This is a reference to Jesus' first public miracle at a wedding in Cana and is considered an anti-Shibboleth by TAs and many IJs. Most frequently, Chinese applicants can name only this Bible story, as a result of being coached by the smugglers they use to enter the United States. Similarly, applicants who have been coached will say "the Lord's Prayer" is their favorite, and then recite some variation of the traditional Catholic grace before a meal (i.e. not the Lord's Prayer). The smugglers abroad and "immigration consultants" here in the United States are not very imaginative and have no real interest in their victims, so these responses do not change that often.
Worth reading in full; many of the comments are insightful as well. Fascinating on cultural, linguistic, legal, epistemological, and theological levels.

word to principals: you are not cops

The drug war has apparently driven an East Hartford, Connecticut administrator to distraction--and resignation.
A middle school assistant principal facing charges related to sending a student to buy drugs in order to catch another student selling them has agreed to resign.

Amy E. Watson, 37, of Ellington, will step down effective Friday, according to school board Chairwoman Mary Alice Dwyer Hughes....

Watson has been on administrative leave pending an investigation into whether she paid a student to buy drugs from a suspected drug dealer March 11.

Edwin Soto, 50, of Suffield, also was arrested in the case. He was the school security officer.

Watson surrendered to police May 8 and was charged with risking injury or impairing the morals of a child and tampering with a witness.
The last time we had a drug-related story this silly, the Supreme Court had to weigh in. Are some principals spending all their free time watching The Shield?

[via Obscure Store]

Aug 13, 2009

Baird reverses course; will host town halls

Via Jon DeVore, it turns out that Brian Baird has changed his mind and will now host real, live, town halls this summer.
His constituents should look forward to the five town hall meetings and feel free to participate. And if the kitchen gets a little hot, as we editorialized before, Baird should "(w)ork with the concept that some rowdy crowd behavior will happen and figure out how to best manage it. These are, after all, Baird's meetings...."

Two other fumbles were recovered Wednesday, these of the verbal variety. In his written statement, Baird addressed two inappropriate analogies he had drawn in recent interviews. Last week he labeled as "Brownshirt" in nature much of the recent disruptive behavior at town hall meetings. The next day, Baird dug deeper. He compared the unruly town hall meeting participants with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Now, though, in both instances, "I regret that and apologize for it."
Good for him. Up until recently, Baird had a solid reputation for engaging his constituents. This is the Brian Baird we know and expect.

today's health care links

I had been working on a great big post about medical ethics and the health care debate--which, at least on the television, is more like the battle of Talking Points vs. Shouting Points. But in my research and reading, I kept getting sidetracked by more and more links of interest, so for now, I'm taking the cheap way out, and letting you experience the fun for yourself. (The medical ethics piece is still coming, promise.)

1. Debate about the debate: Jesse Walker on various shades of Astroturf.

2. Similarly, David Harsanyi on who really controls the conversation.

3. Oh, you mean you actually want to compare reform proposals?

4. What Obama's grandmother has to do with the debate.

5. Hopefully, you'll never have to battle your insurance company for coverage.

6. How to put a price on life.

7. When the health care debate pits brother against brother.

Aug 11, 2009

a monopoly on nostalgia

Topps, maker of some of the ugliest baseball cards in existence, has crowded out its last major competitor, Upper Deck, by signing an exclusive agreement with Major League Baseball. Slate's Dave Jamieson has the story--and the history--behind the move.

When I was a kid, I bought Donruss, Fleer, or Topps packs with whatever change I could scrimp from chores, blissfully unaware of the economic forces at play. (Upper Deck? Who had that kind of money?)

Now I'm nostalgically disoriented.

giddy with anticipation for the last time

For most, Christmas comes twice a year: once in December, and once in July, when Santa descends from the North Pole to deliver mattress sales.

For Washington educator-types, Christmas comes a third time, in August, when the state releases WASL results.

For one last year. After this, we'll have to get giddy about the High School Proficiency Exam, or HSPE, which, quite frankly, doesn't roll off the tongue.* What else does the future hold?
Students in third-through-eighth-grades will take the new Measurements of Student Progress. It will be shorter than the WASL.

About a quarter of the state’s sixth-through-eighth-graders are expected to take their exams online next spring, according to OSPI.

Dorn plans to have the majority of state testing online by the spring of 2012.
And who knows what the test will be like / called by then.

*Any experts at OSPI care to tell us how to pronounce the shorthand version? Is it H-S-P-E? HissPee? HizzPeh? H-Spee?

Aug 10, 2009

Astoria trip photos: part I

My wife and I took a weekend jaunt to Astoria, Oregon (and then north to the Long Beach peninsula) to celebrate our fifthiversary. Some of the photos are available here.

Update: I've added fifteen more shots, previewed below.

Update Update: There will be no Part II. Instead, I added captions.

looking for Solomon in triage

A medical ethics hypothetical.
On a Wednesday night in a small town, four men, Smith, Jones, Lee, and Gonzales, suffered immediate liver failure. All four rushed to the town's only hospital, hoping to receive a transplant within an hour--lest they die. The only problem: the hospital had just one liver available for the next sixty minutes.

As the Triage Nurse quickly jotted down their information, all four men began to argue about who should receive the transplant.

"It should be first-come, first-serve," Jones said. "Simple as that." Of course, Jones had arrived in the emergency ward first, shouting "Dibs!" (This was over Smith's protests that he had shouted "Dibs" in the parking lot as they raced toward the hospital.)

"You might as well play rock-paper-scissors or draw straws," Smith said in reply. "That's not rational--that's sheer chance." He argued that they should consider which had contributed the most to society. "After all," Smith said, "I'm a brilliant scientist, and have four brilliant children, all scientists. I cured whooping cough, and my children are working together on a cure for AIDS. I have to survive so I can supervise their research. I should get the liver."

"But I'm the sickest," said Gonzales. "We all have an hour to live, but my liver failed a half hour before any of yours, time I spent driving here from out in the sticks. I should get the liver." He coughed, as if to punctuate his point.

"Not so fast," Lee cut in. "I'm clearly the youngest here. I have the most to live for. I deserve the liver."

"I'm oldest," Jones said, his voice rising. "Age before... beauty."

"Pearls before swine," Lee said sharply, and the conversation broke down into indiscriminate shouting and hollering. Fists were about to fly, when--

"EVERYBODY SHUT UP," shouted the Triage Nurse. "That's it. We're going to..."

Put yourself in the place of the nurse. If you had to decide who got the emergency liver transplant, how would you go about it? What principles or criteria would determine your selection? After all, only one can get the liver--and you'll have to live with the choice for the rest of your days. (Presume, for the sake of argument, that there is simply no other way to save any of the four lives; it's transplant or nothing.)

If you have a solution that, morally and practically speaking, might satisfy all four men--in other words, all four men would agree that the right choice had been made--and that would ease your conscience, put that solution in the comments. I'll share mine, and the situation that's prompted this post, in the very near future.

Aug 9, 2009

easily offended

Don't believe in God? You are not alone.
Apparently, this sentiment offends the Governor of Iowa.
Gov. Chet Culver weighed in on the controversial Des Moines bus ad that has been yanked after multiple complaints.

“I was disturbed, personally, by the advertisement and I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent,” Culver said.

The question will likely become a legal battle, Culver said. He deferred questions of whether the group deserves the same free speech rights as Christian organizations to advertise on the buses to the Iowa Attorney General.

Culver also declined to answer if he would also have gotten off the bus had he been a rider, but noted that he would have been offended by the ad’s message.
What, exactly, is Governor Culver offended by? The notion that atheists exist? The notion that atheists exist openly? The notion that atheists have free speech? The notion that some atheists feel isolated in the Corn Belt?

Even if Culver is "disturbed" by any of the above, he has to know that this is an open-and-shut matter of viewpoint discrimination prohibited under the First Amendment--never mind the Constitution of the state of Iowa. Culver, in pretending otherwise, and refusing to stand up for the rights of all Iowans, has revealed himself to not only be a bigot, but a political coward.

Update: The ads are going back on the buses. Better yet, the advertising policy is being rewritten to better reflect First Amendment rights. No thanks to Culver.

Aug 8, 2009

plagiarism charge hits Seattle pol

If there's an excuse for plagiarism, Seattle mayoral candidate James Donaldson is going to find it:
Seattle mayoral candidate James Donaldson rolled out a 32-page plan of his ideas for Seattle last week. He called it, "James Donaldson's Plan for Seattle."

But parts of Donaldson's plan are copied verbatim from a similar plan released last year by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who, like Donaldson, is a former NBA player.

Donaldson's campaign consultant, Cindi Laws, said she modeled the plan after Johnson's.

"People make these assumptions about athletes being dim ... so I looked at how it had been done," said Laws. "Kevin broke out of the pack by issuing a policy-heavy plan."

Laws said the similarities simply show that Donaldson knows a good idea when he sees one.
He just forgets the part about giving credit where it's due, right?


1. When asked his opinion of Seattle's proposed plastic bag tax, Donaldson said, "Hold on, I'm Googling it."

2. Obviously, the way to combat stereotypes is to live them out. A warning, though: cognitive dissonance has a wide radius.

3. Remember, it's not the quality of the plan. It's the combined weight of its policies.

Update: Not the only time Donaldson's gone cut-and-paste happy, I'm afraid.

the rook of fable

More intelligent behavior from birds: this time, rooks using stones to raise the water level in a jar, so they can reach a tasty worm.

Aug 7, 2009

script-flipping, continued

If you needed more evidence that the Town Hall Shout-Ins of '09 are an example of Left and Right flipping the script, try Byron York's (classic?) article on Cindy Sheehan, notable for its unabashed mockery of the antiwar activist and her supporters. Of course, the title of his book on l'affair Bushitler is equally insightful:
The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time.
Right intuition; wrong team.

Oh, and... The Brian Baird saga gets weirder.

the grossest cure

Remember Olestra, also known as Olean? You know, back when the way to shave off pounds wasn't through a fad geographically- or masochistically-based diet, but through a quick and easy food additive-based diet? (Splenda's still trying, bless its calorie-reduced heart.)

Turns out the fat substitute may actually have a use--as part of a medical treatment for dioxin poisoning. In fact, if may have played a minor role in saving former Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko's life. Yushchenko, as you may recall, was poisoned in an assassination attempt. NewScientist reports that skin growths called hamartomas were a critical part of the cure.
It now turns out that the lumps that grew on his face and body as a result probably saved his life by isolating the dioxin away from his vital, internal organs. They also helped to detoxify the poison, known chemically as TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlrodibenzo-p-dioxin), by producing powerful enzymes called cytochrome p450s that are normally confined to the liver.
Read the whole fascinating thing.

Aug 6, 2009

Brian Baird will stay in the frying pan, thank you

Local Democrat Brian Baird won't be hosting any town halls this summer, blaming protesters who've been interrupting town hall meetings across the country.
Baird said his decision to scrub such constituent gatherings was partly prompted by an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment from right-wing opponents of Democratic health care reform efforts who have disrupted town hall meetings in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin.

“It’s a lynch-mob mentality out there,” Baird said. “There is an ugliness to it.”
The article notes that Baird is "no stranger to town hall protests." Indeed, this blogger witnessed Baird take a lot of flak--much of it personal--when he came to Capital High School to defend his support for the surge back in 2007. So I'm inclined to grant Baird the benefit of the doubt, here, if he claims to see something more vitriolic than protests past. It's not like he's known for flaking out on his constituents. But the move still strikes me as unwise--if anything, it emboldens the fringe, and reinforces their paranoia.

Last, it's clear that today's health care rabble-rousers have borrowed their tactics from the anti-war movement. After all, they've had over six years to watch and learn.

Update: On a national level, more script-flipping, compliments of Rush Limbaugh.

Update II: Jon DeVore notes that Dave Reichert has been town-hall free for his term.

Update III: And now Baird has put his foot in it. This is turning out to be an entertaining, as in tragic, summer.

Update IV: A cryptic death threat for Brian Baird? Really? People, just stop.

Aug 4, 2009

he fielded it... with science!

Jack Wilson, Seattle's new shortstop, serves up a little science to The News Tribune's Larry LaRue:
“I started to watch a batter’s hands and feet, his elbow and shoulders, his swing pass. Then, depending on your pitcher and what pitch he’s about to throw, you know what the hitter is most likely to do,” he said.

“I got good enough that in Pittsburgh, they let me set the infield defense. I moved an outfielder one time and one of the coaches asked why. I showed him the video of the hitter’s first swing and said, ‘Look at that. There’s no way he was going to be able to pull a ball with that swing.’ After that, they trusted me.”

It was more than study in the field. Wilson read up on the opposition.

“If a guy is in a slump, for instance, what’s he going to try to do? Keep the ball up the middle, go the other way. That’s how you try to get out of a slump,” Wilson said. “Pulling the ball gets you into slumps, it doesn’t get you out. So if a guy is in a slump, it doesn’t make sense to play him to pull.”
Glad to hear Wilson takes the Greg Maddux to the game: study, discipline, maximum effort--a welcome change from the laissez faire style of his predecessor.

Just stay out of Wilson's way when he's heating the Florence flask.

Update: The Times' Larry Stone explains why Wilson chose baseball over soccer--and how the world's game has helped him compete in America's pastime.

today's determined links

1. Are people doomed to think of lawyers as sophists? Probably, since it's a matter of indeterminate definitions.

2. Determination, one power chord at a time.

3. Determining guilt and innocence: the "shaky science" of criminal forensics.

4. Isn't the outcome essentially predetermined?

5. How ETA's recent attack blunts hopes of Basque self-determination.

Aug 3, 2009

Saint Helens in late summer

Today Melissa and I drove to Mount Saint Helens via the Hwy 504 entrance, headed to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Pictures were taken from the observatory and nearby trails.

The observatory / apocalyptic bunker in question.

"The Message of the Mountain," the cheesy yet entertaining video that the Observatory features every half hour, and which desperately needs some updated computer graphics, said that in the immediate blast zone, trees as large as 8 feet in diameter snapped like twigs.

What might you see when you're not gawking at the volcano.

Free the dandelions.

Look closely to see the peak hiding in the background.

The professional (that is, the one with the fancy camera) at work.

Along the Boundary Trail, a short walk from the Observatory (or the parking lot).

A memorial to those who perished in the blast.

The observatory as seen from the Boundary Trail.

One last look.

Aug 2, 2009

killing them softly with excerpts

Introductory phrase, followed by relevant link.
Blockquoted, thoughtfully chosen excerpt, highlighting the article's main argument, perhaps, or a good quote that would drum up a reader's interest or provoke some sort of analysis or observation on the blogger's part, in a way that respects "fair use."
Analysis, observation, ranting, raving, etc., perhaps with a call to read the whole thing, which, of course, would include a link.

P.S. When you click through, don't be surprised if you're asked to register for the right to read free content online. And you wonder what's really killing newspapers.

P.P.S. Should you refer to this blog post, I will find your attention flattering.

P.P.P.S. I learned about it on Twitter.

P.P.P.P.S. And thus I have reached the legal limit for postscripts.